Politik und Gesellschaft Online
International Politics and Society 2/1999


Eddy Lee:

The Debate on the Causes of the Asian Crisis
Crony Capitalism Versus International System Failure

Vorläufige Fassung / Preliminary version

Two different types of answer are given to the question why a series of East Asian countries in 1997/98 suddenly became victims of a massive capital drain and, as a consequence, extreme currency devaluation and a dramatic slump after decades of high economic growth. The one answer sees the crisis as a sign of the inherent instability of the global financial markets, the other as a result of the inadequacies of the Asian development model. These inadequacies are summed up in the term "crony capitalism". This means the widespread allocation of resources (e.g. credit) and market opportunities by the political system, too often linked with corruption. This systematically negated the disciplining effect of the market, and favoured unprofitable investments and the accrual of untenable debt positions. But the "crony capitalism" argument can neither explain why similar structural weaknesses have not led to crises elsewhere nor why the East Asian countries were so successful for such a long time. Furthermore, such a diagnosis applies to the various crisis countries to considerably differing degrees. The argument is rather trite and ideological in nature. Its critics see much greater explanatory value in another factor, namely the early and badly thought-through liberalisation of the movement of capital which preceded the crisis in the countries concerned. This focuses attention on the dangers which emanate from the world financial markets. From this perspective, the crisis no longer appears as something peculiar to East Asia, but as a typical and recurring product of unregulated financial markets. A fundamentally sceptical attitude towards the costs-benefit balance of financial liberalisation is linked with this perspective. But even if such scepticism is justified and the arguments on which it is based are correct, the crisis countries cannot escape blame. They should give high political priority to ending crony capitalism, strengthening competition-based market processes, as well as building and safeguarding solid financial structures. This is necessary not least for reasons of political morality.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition juliag | April 1999